Critical mass for journalists, and the aftermath

Recapping the week in journalism that was, and then trying to vault ahead with some encouragement in spite of it all:

• Around 2,000 Gannetteers were pushed out the doors at newspapers around the country, save USA Today and Detroit News. A former Gannett editor does record traffic on his blog tracking the moves, with journalists posting heart-wrenching accounts of their own layoffs. Others find it an indispensable gathering place for journalists walled off from official company information.

• My former employer is consolidating its media companies into a single unit and closing its Washington bureau, whose longtime chief is becoming the new Washington Post ombudsman. And its veteran D.C.-based economics writer has landed at NPR as a business editor.

• The Rocky Mountain News, located in one of the few American cities with competing newspapers (therefore: an active JOA), is being put up for sale. Scripps has reported a loss of $11 million in the first nine months of the year. Its days may be drastically numbered.

•Other non-newspaper media outlets, including NBC, are hemorrhaging too. CNN is causing some media watchers to scratch their heads after gutting its science, technology and environmental team, including anchor Miles O’Brien.

And familiar questions abound: Will the quality, as well as the quantity, of news also contract? Are the supposedly online-resistant, Watergate-inspired baby boomers — talkin’ ’bout my ge-ge-ge-ge generation here! — a big part of the problem with the newspaper industry? Will  middle-class journalists be rendered artifacts with few options except bailing out of the profession? Will there be a viable, ad-supported online business model that will emerge in their lifetimes?

And damn it all, Odetta has died. What a crummy week!

But as I pointed out in my sneak preview New Year’s Resolution, it’s imperative to understand how transformational these times are for professional journalists. The economic troubles merely piled on to the structural shift that newspapers, television and other media industries are facing in the digital age.

It may feel like many of us who have been laid off, bought out or who otherwise fled the deluge are on our own. To a degree, we are. But this week, and recent weeks, have also shown signs of new journalistic energy moving in to lend a helping hand. And forge new ties in our professional community:

• A digital media training company is offering free training to laid-off journalists, with the Gannetteers in mind, to develop skills and even start their own Web sites.

• One laid-off photographer has done just that, showcasing his portfolio online. His eyes are wide open to the realities of how to pocket a decent pay check, but he’s forging ahead.

• And an online journalism startup is offering a job — yes, a JOB! — to a journalist who can best explain why he or she is “The Future of Journalism.” Contestants may submit their essays in written, video or audio form, and their work will be made available to potential employers looking at future-minded journalists. The finalists will be chosen by journalists.

• Here are a few journalism- and media-related sites for job-searchers, courtesy of an online journalism consultant kind enough to offer this list to fellow professionals.

This may not seem like a lot given the thousands of journalists who’ve left their newsrooms, and those who are almost certain to follow in 2009. But this is only the start of an effort to re-energize the journalism community. By journalists themselves. Who else is going to do this?

Next week I’ll roll out a few posts of my own to contribute what I know about getting started, or getting more savvy, in the digital world. Take it from an old print hack: If I can do this stuff, so can you.

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